Encroachers, government at loggerheads as courts enforce law

Shimla: A mass drive to register cases in encroachment of forest lands has had the desired effect of instilling fear among the violators but also evoked anger among many for feeling cheated by the state because of non implementation of a decade old policy decision to regularize encroachments.

“Abiding by court orders, police in Shimla district till Thursday had registered 460 FIR against persons who had encroached upon more than 2 acres of forest lands,” says Sonal Agnihtori, SP Shimla. “As more encroachment cases are being pointed out FIRs are being registered,” he added.

In Kullu district where about 600 fresh criminal cases are normally registered in a year, more than 600 encroachments cases had been registered in less than a month.

The drive was on in other districts also as a court directive on 25th May for setting up a task force headed by SP of each district gets cracking on illegal occupation of forest lands, which have either been converted into farmlands or apple orchards, by booking the culprits.

A senior forest officer without wanting to be identified disclosed that there were more than 15,000 cases of encroachments of about 3,300 hectares of forestland, mainly in the apple producing belt of Shimla district, pending eviction with the department.

To deal with the problem, the forest department had even setup forest thanas and launched an eviction drive but a forest officer had let the courts know that they had succeeded in evicting only 275 encroachers.

Opposing the drive, Guman Singh, convener of Himalaya Nithi Abhiyan (HNA), a NGO says that the government had failed to implement the Forest Rights Act, which was a special act, in the state. Action should only be taken after implementing the Forest Rights Act, he said.

He also said that the law was skewed against farmers. “Encroachments and construction violations in urban areas are condoned on a regular basis but farmers don’t get any such relief. Pressure on land is immense and land is a livelihood issue for poor people,” he said.

Caught up in the wrangle, an encroacher who has been booked under section 447 IPC and section 41, 41 of the Indian Forest Act for encroaching on forest lands, only blames the government for his woes.

Not wanting to be identified, he said, “in 2002, the government with much fanfare had announced a policy to regularize encroachments and asked us to submit affidavits. It is a complete breach of trust, now that those very affidavits are being used against us for filing cases.”

The government then had received more than 300,000 applications for regularization of encroachments, which included forest, revenue and common lands and till date the issue stands stalled.

In between, environmentalists moved the courts to stall the governments’ action and asked for action, particularly against forest encroachments.

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